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The Mystical Adventures of Tess and Jack

Hanoi: City of the Soaring Dragon

VIETNAM | Wednesday, 6 January 2010 | Views [592]

Our introduction to Hanoi was not the most promising. Both of us were tired and grumpy after a long bus then boat then bus then another bus trip from Cat Ba, which involved a baffling scam attempt (we got off the boat, all our fellow passengers boarded a bus but we were told we had to stay off, we waited around in the freezing cold for a half hour, the driver told us we had to pay for a taxi because our bus wasn't coming for 45 minutes, we said no, our bus showed up 2 minutes later and we were the only people on it, then we picked up our fellow passengers in town, who all laughed at us...I'm confused). We both felt very overwhelmed as our taxi crawled through the busy streets, and we experienced our first (amazingly) collision - which involved nudging a girl on a scooter - the driver appeared unperturbed and simply stuck his head out the window and shouted "No!". Once we made it to the Old Quarter in one piece, we found it was a case of 'no room at the inn'. We wandered around irritably until we found a hotel who put us in a tiny shoebox of a room with no window and the bathroom across the hall for the somewhat steep price of $15! After all this hassle we weren't sure how we felt about Hanoi...

Things started looking up the next day when we ditched our dodgy hotel and found another a few metres down the road, where we got an AMAZING room for the same price (bargaining skillz): huge bed, internet in room (!), free buffet b-fast and most wonderfully, a huge shower (that was actually partitioned from the rest of the bathroom - unlike every other hotel in SEA - for the first time we were not bathing where we were shitting...luxury!)

Hanoi turned out to be exceedingly charming and a lovely place to relax and unwind before our mission to Laos. As mentioned, our hotel was right in the heart of the Old Quarter of the city, which is a jumble of narrow streets packed with colour and life. The streets are named after the product that was traditionally sold on them - for example shoe street, silk street, coffin street - however they're a little more mixed now and a few modern products seem to have cropped up (e.g. balloon street - see pics!) We didn't engage in too many blog-worthy activities during our stay - most of the time was spent relishing the comfort of our hotel, wandering the streets and soaking up atmosphere, and most importantly, drinking lots of bia hoi! For the unfamiliar, this is freshly brewed local beer (no preservatives) which is sold at street stalls from a big keg for around 20c a glass! Sitting on the street in kiddies' chairs, watching the motorbikes and sipping from a cold glass of bia hoi is very atmospheric feels authentically Vietnamese!

On our last day we ventured further afield to do some obligatory touristy things. First up was Ho Chi Minh's Mausoleum - against his dying wishes for a peaceful burial, Uncle Ho's corpse is preserved and on show for lots of reverent Vietnamese and a fair few curious tourists to gawk at. A little shameless I know but it was one of those things I had to do! The Vietnamese take it seriously and he's heavily guarded. You also have to wear appropriate clothes, leave your cam at the door and keep your hands where everyone can see em. Jack had an unlikely but pleasant blast from the past when he ran into his favourite ex mother-in-law upon our departure from the corpse sighting. Good times had by all! Next up we visited the Temple of Literature (not filled with ancient books, much to my dismay), a Confucian temple where the sons of Mandarins were educated (the stellae in the picture are used to mark the award of a degree).

Our original plan had been to spend a night or two in Mai Chau (to get a less-touristy-than-Sapa feel for the remote north, on the recommendation of our travel guru Beau) but we were enjoying Hanoi a little too much and so extended our visit for a couple of days. It was a wonderful way to bid farewell to Vietnam and prepare ourselves for not-quite-so-luxurious Laos!


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